Syracuse, Marquette mirror coaches
WASHINGTON -- Syracuse and Marquette fit the personality and style of their coaches.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim craves a defense that is long, athletic and flusters the opponent, as if he's looking at the zone like he was given seconds to figure out a Rubik's Cube.
He's got that with the Orange.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams needs players who won't mind sacrificing their bodies during practice and games and will play every possession as if they are competing for their scholarships.
Every year, there are teams that take on the personality of the coach or the style that they have been ordered to play.
But rarely do the two teams meet on this stage -- Syracuse versus Marquette in the East Regional final -- with so much on the line.
There are few teams that are defined. The two remaining here are exactly what they need to be to reach their potential.
"We've got the right personnel to play our zone,'' said Syracuse's C.J. Fair. "We've got big guards. We can disrupt a lot of passes. We've got long, athletic forwards on the back end. It's hard for teams to get easy looks.''
Every coach is competitive. Boeheim hasn't lost any of his zest to play as long as possible through March and into April. This Syracuse team didn't always buy in this season, especially during some of its seven Big East losses. But the Big East tournament was different. Save one half against Louisville, the Orange have been locked into who they are and what they need to be in order to win the title.
"There is trust,'' Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams said. "We have all gained trust in one another. That's why we've been so successful. We've been building a trust and working together.
What has made the zone so effective the past two weeks -- more so than at any point in any of the players' careers at Syracuse?
"It's our natural ability with our size and length,'' Carter-Williams said. "We work hard on the defensive end and we know what we're about and what each other is about. We take each game personally and each possession personally to get a stop.''
Syracuse senior forward James Southerland said the Orange weren't in sync toward the end of the season. But they snapped together like a jigsaw puzzle, finally fitting when they arrived in New York for the Big East tournament.
"We're playing together now, we're playing a lot tougher,'' Southerland said. "A year ago, we didn't have time to adjust losing Fab [Melo] right before the start of the tournament. We're healthy now. We've practiced all year and everyone -- Jerami Grant, C.J., Brandon, me, Michael and Baye [Moussa Keita] are all doing our thing. We're comfortable and we're in sync.''
Boeheim might come across as being more relaxed at times on the sideline, but he has a calming influence on this team. They don't need to be prodded as much because they understand space and positioning on the floor.
Williams puts different demands on his players. Not everyone can coexist. Senior guard Junior Cadougan said he's the only one remaining from his five-player recruiting class.
"You've got to go through the pain and be mature to handle this,'' Cadougan said. "You can't think about living the college life and having fun. You've got to accept the work you have to do. We have calendars throughout the week, especially as a freshman, with your day filled up with practice and study hall and classes. You'll leave your room at 6 a.m. and get back at 9 p.m.
"This year was the hardest year I had,'' he said. "We had to grind. Boot camp was the hardest. Training camp was the hardest. The way we approached practice was hard but it's all paying off.''
And like Syracuse, the reason is the trust the players have in the instruction and the style. At this point in the season, no one doubts Williams' objective.
"We just bought into the ideas,'' said forward Chris Otule. "We trust him as a coach. Whatever he's going to say we'll do and work. You have to be a hard-nosed player to play here. You have to trust that he'll take care of you and your body and not overuse your body. You have to be hard-nosed and be humble. He doesn't like conceited. He doesn't want you to think about yourself above the rest. It takes a lot of endurance to play here. But it works out in the end.''
Syracuse is in its second straight Elite Eight, but playing with more confidence and cohesion than a year ago heading into the game against Ohio State in Boston.
Marquette finally made it out of the Sweet 16 after two previous trips. And the Golden Eagles, while maybe not as stocked with as many potential pros, trust one another even more and arguably are a better team than last year because of accepting and embracing their identity.
Both of these teams know exactly who they are, what they have to do and what needs to occur for them to win. That doesn't always occur, even with Final Four teams and national champs. But it has happened here with these two.
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